In the campaign leading up to the Brexit referendum, most parties involved in higher education , including 103 university presidents, 56% of university students and even Jo Johnson, former UK Secretary of State for Education – and Boris Johnson’s brother, Conservative critic for Premier May -, have expressed their wish to remain in the European Union (EU).
Two years later, most academics maintain their pro-EU stance and hope that whatever happens, the UK will not cut corners with the continent. Of course, the uncertainty and the likely negative consequences, especially if there is no agreement, will hurt British universities. However, one should not think in terms of zero-sum game, because the damage done to British universities would not necessarily benefit other universities in the continent, as some people mistakenly think.
In the first place, it is expected that the number of EU students paying for their education in the United Kingdom will decrease significantly, even taking into account the depreciation of the pound sterling, which would translate into lower tuition fees, as well as housing and food expenses.
Today, UK universities have more than 450,000 foreign students, representing revenues of around 14,000 million pounds of UK GDP and an impact of more than 20,000 jobs. The main reason for this fall is the concern of EU students about the need to obtain work visas after completing their studies in the United Kingdom, an obligation that does not exist in the UK. ‘actual hour.
The impact on the most prestigious UK universities will probably be minimal. However, the less well-known universities will face difficulties and consider the possibility of merging with other educational institutions or creating alliances or consortia to gain economies of scale, increase their attractiveness and improve their international position. Private universities, although minority in the United Kingdom, depend mainly on foreign students and will therefore be the most affected.
At the same time, exchange programs between universities in the EU and the United Kingdom, as well as double licenses and joint diplomas, will not be affected, regardless of the agreement of the adopted Brexit, since it is private agreements.
With regard to the attractiveness of the teaching profession, there will also be a significant drop in the number of applications from EU professionals to teaching and research posts at UK universities due to uncertainty regarding the requirement of work visas.
Other actors fear the xenophobic climate deleterious fueled by the “Brexiteers”. However, this decline will be offset by an increase in requests from non-EU countries.
Difficult times for funding for research
The funds for research will also be affected. In the long term, UK academics will have to withdraw from research cooperation projects between European universities, which are included in the EU budget.
Ongoing projects supported by the Horizon 2020 program will not be affected either and will continue to completion.
Similarly, given the quality of research conducted in UK universities, it is highly likely that their EU counterparts will continue to work in partnership with them through joint initiatives. But one of the main consequences could be that the British universities lose the direction of these projects.
Budget cuts and postponement of investment projects in UK universities are also expected. The predicted downturn in the UK economy after the eventual Brexit is likely to result in lower spending on education by the government. This could lead some universities in the country to increase their tuition fees. Nevertheless, most university presidents have indicated their willingness to apply the same amount of enrollment for all students, whether they come from the UK or the EU.
But even taking into account the negative consequences – already mentioned – over the next few years, I believe that the situation will stabilize in the long term.
There are two main reasons for this:
- In the first place, pragmatism will prevail. At present, everyone has doubts about the solution that will be adopted by the British Parliament and its acceptance by the EU and its Member States. Notwithstanding, my hunch is that the most likely outcome will be the maintenance of the status quo in education and research, two areas much less controversial than trade and immigration.
- Secondly, higher education is now a global sector . This process of globalization is irreversible, given the international integration of educational practices, the impact of technology and the free flow of people and ideas. British universities play a fundamental role in this framework of global education, a setting where the common language is, of course, English.
Regardless of the institutional and regulatory model adopted, current relations between universities will continue. Moreover, in most cases, these relationships are based on bilateral or multilateral agreements between different universities and do not require any regulatory framework or government recognition.
It is desirable that the initiatives of leaders of educational organizations continue to build bridges across borders and to create new international collaborative programs based on mutual recognition, without recourse to the support of the United Kingdom or the EU.
I hope that UK and EU universities will contribute to addressing the divisions that Brexit has created, just as they will continue to develop and promote diversity, tolerance and a sense of global citizenship, values on which origin of the universities themselves. Many are still hoping that Brexit will not become a reality.
Author Bio: Santiago Iñiguez from Onzoño is Presidente IE University at IE University